WTO members engage on new fisheries subsidies proposals / by Francisco Blaha

Members engaged in detailed discussions on three new proposals aimed at achieving an outcome on fisheries subsidies at the WTO’s upcoming Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017. The proposals from the European Union, the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of members, and six Latin American members — Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and Uruguay — all seek to achieve the 2020 targets set out in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

 image from http://www.nereusprogram.org/

image from http://www.nereusprogram.org/

SDG 14.6 calls for prohibiting certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminating subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and refraining from introducing new such subsidies, by 2020. Goal 14.6 also recognizes that appropriate and effective special and differential (S&D) treatment for developing and least developed members should be an integral part of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations.

The three proposals presented at the 9 December meeting of the Negotiating Group on Rules (NGR) all share the same objectives:

  • achieving the goals set out in SDG 14.6
  • ensuring effective disciplines while also providing special and differential treatment for developing and least developed country (LDC) members
  • securing an outcome at the Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires. 

In addition, the proponents call for the negotiations to proceed on a stand-alone basis, i.e. there should be no linkage with other issues being discussed as part of the rules negotiations.

The proposal, which was first introduced at the previous NGR meeting on 11 November, seeks to prohibit subsidies linked to overcapacity (including those used to increase the capacity of, or support the construction of, fishing vessels) and to IUU fishing, provides special and differential treatment for developing members and LDCs, and highlights the importance of members notifying all kind of subsidies that support, directly or indirectly, marine fishing activity.

The ACP proposal primarily targets subsidies provided to large scale commercial or industrial fishing and subsidies to fishing activities outside of members' maritime jurisdictions. The proposal would impose a ban on all IUU subsidies and all subsidies granted to fishing vessels or fishing activity negatively affecting fish stocks that are in an overfished condition; flexibilities would be included allowing developing members with small scale fishing sectors to increase their capacity to fish.

The joint proposal from Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and Uruguay advocates using a flexible approach to the application of disciplines by developing members and LDCs, inspired by that adopted in the Trade Facilitation Agreement. In particular, under the proposal these countries could apply transition periods (to be defined through negotiations) for implementing the specific disciplines to be established, in some cases subject to the receipt of technical assistance and support for capacity building.

Summing up the discussions, Ambassador Wayne McCook of Jamaica, the chair of the NGR, noted commonalities in the proposals, in particular their reliance on SDG 14.6.  It is clear that members will need to look at the impact of certain subsidies that contribute to overfishing and to overcapacity of fishing fleets, as well as how to address IUU fishing, he said.  Members have been working on these issues for more than a decade, so any solution will require new creativity, which he said was perhaps being seen in some of the proposals now being put forward.

Plurilateral negotiations on fisheries subsidies

Canada told members that a group of members participating in a plurilateral initiative on fisheries subsidies were planning to hold their first substantive meeting early next year and that any member wishing to take part in the initiative could join in. So far, 16 members have signaled their interest, Canada said.

Next meeting

The next dedicated session on fisheries subsidies is tentatively scheduled to take place on 24 January 2017.

source https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news16_e/fish_09dec16_e.htm